A long, long time ago, I met the first person I ever knew who couldn’t eat dairy products. I remember being shocked and horrified to find out that lactose intolerance and dairy allergies even existed, and I felt immense (and characteristically overdramatic) amounts of sympathy for this person. At the time, I couldn’t fathom not having any dairy in my diet. In fact, for many years, I believed that the only thing holding me back from being a full vegan was cheese. And yogurt. And perhaps butter, too. I definitely loved my dairy products.
Since then, practically a zillion health professionals have told me that I, too, am allergic to dairy. Indeed, I display ‘classic case’ symptoms of dairy allergies (itchy skin, acne, indigestion, bloating, etc.) and am therefore easily diagnosed as such. (My inability to digest dairy is about as obvious as the fact that my hair is brown, if that tells you anything).
The solution to a dairy allergy is fairly straightforward: don’t eat dairy. The first time I tried to cut out dairy from my diet, I was expecting pain, suffering, mental anguish, and extreme inconvenience. However, it was easy as pie to cut out milk itself– I rarely drank milk anymore, anyway. And it was a lot easier to cut out yogurt than I expected, too. Cheese proved to be a bit more difficult to take out, but not impossible. The biggest hurdle to overcome actually ended up being butter– who knew I was so attached to its creamy churned goodness?
Not eating dairy made my body feel so much better. I experienced way less indigestion and my innards felt way less… milky than they had before. (Gross, I know.) My skin was clear, my belly wasn’t bloated, and I literally started to skip around like a cheerful schoolgirl everywhere– not eating dairy certainly did this body good.
However, before long, a tiny bit of dairy creeped back into my diet. At first, it was accidental– an order at an Indian restaurant came back with a tiny dollop of raita on the side, and I figured there would be no harm in eating a bit of it. (I was so wrong.) Soon, I was deliberately taking in small doses of dairy, hoping to buffer my digestive system from the explosive impact of stray/unplanned dairy in my diet. I determined (with slightly twisted logic) that it was better to keep my body in a constant state of mild inflammation from regular (small) servings of dairy than it was to cut out dairy altogether and to suffer extreme consequences if any dairy managed to creep its way onto my plate (say, at a restaurant or as a guest at somebody’s house). This way of thinking made sense to me at the time, so tiny dairy rations became my new mode of operation.
Lately, there has been quite a bit of dairy in my diet. I started drinking coffee regularly about a year and a half ago (ahem), and at work, I tend to drink it with cream (whereas at home, it’s with basmati rice milk all the way). Also, we started eating out a lot more, and there’s a ton of dairy where you least expect it (on salads, in soups, in sandwiches, etc., etc.) Alas, my skin has also been breaking out a lot in recent months. And this is where I draw the line with dairy. For some strange reason, I seem to be OK with putting my digestive system through the ringers and suffering indigestion because of dairy, but I am totally not cool with having a dairy-induced bad complexion, so out dairy comes again. The dairy purge starts today.
(Back story for context: Some of you might already know that I had pretty bad acne as a teenager and needed to take a course of Accutane— The Devil’s Drug– not once, but twice, to get it under control. My poor liver! Now, any sign of acne on my skin summons up a horrible sense of dread within me– I just can’t handle the thought of having bad skin again. So vanity trumps dairy, for better or for worse. We’ll see how this goes!)